Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Olympic Pipe Line Disaster: Reflections

At the last City Council meeting -literally the last one for Bob Ryan & me- Bob recalled the actions the 1999 Council took in the aftermath of the Olympic Pipe Line catastrophe on June 10, 1999.
That recollection touched a cord in my memory.

How indelibly that date has come to represent the dark time that was to become one of Bellingham's finest hours!

And, how grateful we can be that the tragic deaths of three young men -boys really- meant enough to the people of our community that meaningful changes in our National Pipeline Safety laws were actually enacted as a result!

It is truly sad that we seem to need something tragic like this to happen before corrective regulatory changes are made.
But, we can be thankful that those changes were made, because they now benefit everyone living in this country.

Bob Ryan's remark caused me to reflect upon what the actions were that the City Council unanimously agreed were so important. And, that we had such a gut-level commitment to righting that horrendous wrong, not eventually glossing over it - which would have been so much easier and far less costly.

There were 5 or 6 general courses of action we -the Council- agreed to pursue, and to the best of my recollection these included the following:

• We would enforce the expired Franchise Agreement and not allow Olympic to cross City property to replace the ruptured pipeline without restitution and a stronger Agreement.

• We would seek outside Legal Counsel to represent the City's interests.

• We would seek outside Pipeline Consultant(s) to represent the City's interests. One to help us understand industry lingo and management practices, and another to advise us on corrosion and its detection, mitigation and prevention.

• We would seek to have Olympic redesign their pipeline system to incorporate Process Safety Management features, such as those required in the Petroleum Refining Industry.

• We would enlist the aid and support of our elected Federal & State Representatives in our cause to adequately address what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again -anywhere.

That is the gist of what had been written on the back of an envelope during a briefing by our Mayor, Mark Asmundson.

After each point was mentioned, the entire Council voiced its strong support, making it very clear to the Mayor the seriousness of our intent.

To Mayor Mark's credit, he took that scribbled-upon envelope and pursued every item with great vigor and determination.

And, what an effort it was!

The Olympic Pipe Line Company resisted strongly, until that eventually became untenable, so great was the pressure for rectifying the problems uncovered.

Ultimately, after 18 months of being shut down, a reconstituted Olympic was able to restart its operations and begin again to ship great quantities of aviation gasoline, diesel fuel and other refined petroleum products to the south; but, this time with much greater safety.

That effort was worth it!

I think it safe to say that the Olympic issue pretty well dominated what the City of Bellingham did for the rest of 1999 and most of 2000.

And, the citizens were terrific throughout this time!
So were our elected Federal & State officials who actually changed our Pipeline Safety regulations!
The Herald did its best work ever, by accurately recording every aspect of what happened, why it happened, what was being done to insure it would never happen again!

But, lest we forget, the 3 youths did have their lives cut tragically short, leaving a lingering sadness to this day for their families, and for those who remember what happened.
It was for them the effort happened, because it was the least we could have done.

6/10/99 will remain forever as Bellingham's 9/11.
May it never be repeated.